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Panda habitat seriously affected in May earthquake
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Pandas habitats seriously affected in the May's earthquake are in urgent need of restoration, an official said on Monday.

In quake-hit areas in the southwestern Sichuan Province forest coverage dropped by nearly 2 percentage points to 42.6 percent while 11.6 percent of the "ecological corridor" meant to connect isolated habitat areas with bamboo forests, was cut off, said Luo Zengbin, head deputy of the Sichuan Provincial Department of Forestry.

"The migration and breeding of rare animals such as pandas was hindered, as the corridor was cut off in many areas by the earthquake and ensuing landslides, mud-rock flows and quake lakes," Luo said.

The isolation of pandas could prevent gene exchanges, he said.

The official called on international organizations to participate in restoring the panda habitats.

China has earmarked 9.4 billion yuan (US$1.37 billion) to restore forests in Sichuan.

The "giant panda ecological corridor" program launched in 1987 is viewed as an important measure in protecting the endangered species.

Field inspectors in Wolong nature reserve, a major habitat of giant pandas in Sichuan, said the earthquake triggered serious mountain landslides and damaged a huge area of forest. Panda caves collapsed. Bamboos were buried or destroyed and the water was polluted, posing a direct threat to the health of panda populations.

(Xinhua News Agency December 16, 2008)

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